At first, Ranjit Singh didn't recognize the name of the customer who bought the quarter-of-a-billion-dollar-winning Powerball ticket across the counter of his gas station on Nov. 1. But then when he saw the man on television, he remembered. All of the employees of the BP on McGee Avenue in Stamford recognized him. He lived in the condos you could see from the station. He came in almost every workday and bought a cup of coffee on his way to work. Mr. Singh is pretty sure he remembers now, he told his boss, Wiltonian Carol Argotta.
The guy had a dollar and change coming to him, and she always encouraged her workers to remember to push the Lotto impulse buy. With the "you can't win if you don't play" sign beside him, Mr. Singh pointed out to the man that the jackpot was in the hundreds of millions.
"I'm not going to win," Tim Davidson told Mr. Singh, "but just give me a ticket anyway." It was a one-dollar "quick-pick," meaning the computer generated the random set of numbers.
The drawing was the next day and while the officials at Lotto headquarters in Rocky Point knew a winning number had been bought, and knew where, their policy is to never let on and wait for the winner to come forward.
A 27-day silent wait began. The world now knows what was going on. The ticket buyer, Tim Davidson, huddled with two of his business partners at Belpointe, a wealth asset management group in Greenwich, Brandon Lacoff and President and CEO Greg Skidmore, and made a plan. They formed a trust and once all their ducks were in a row, they hired a limo and let the Lotto people know they were on their way to claim their prize.
Michael Lindquist has owned and operated the BP gas station on Route 7 since 1996. Eight years ago he partnered with Ms. Argotta and in 2006, when he was offered the chance to take on a second gas station, which happened to be in Stamford, he was reluctant at first, but then the couple decided that instead of making it a full-service station with mechanics, they would make it a market. They borrowed money, built the service bays into a convenience store, applied for a Lotto license and opened for business in November 2008, with Ms. Argotta overseeing the new location.
Mr. Lindquist said the Lotto people came and set up all the equipment and a separate bank account keeps track of the money. They get a 5% commission on all sales and pay out winners up to a certain amount, and are reimbursed.
"So for every dollar ticket we sell we get a nickel," he said. "Not a lot but we do a lot of sales and it adds up and it's a good little income. And it brings people in the store to help you sell other things."
They also get bonuses for winners. Over the past three years, they have gotten $100 twice for scratch-off winners of $10,000. Big winners are a different story.
All the excitement started with rumors that the winning Powerball ticket had been sold in Stamford. (Their machine did not light up or in any way let them know that it had generated the winning ticket.)
"They keep it under wraps until the person comes forward," Ms. Argotta said. Even if a big winner were to come in and scan the ticket, the readout says to go to headquarters without giving the amount.
"We didn't know until the winners actually came forward on Monday and claimed their prize," Mr. Lindquist explained last week. "That's what set everything else in motion."
Ms. Argotta got a call from a woman named Terry at Lotto headquarters who said, "Can you come up to Rocky Hill because your store sold the winning $254-million ticket?"
It was a record win for Connecticut. "I thought that was kind of exciting," she said.
She called Mr. Lindquist and said, "I've got some really, really good news. And I'm not kidding."
He said, "OK," wondering what this was going to be all about.
"We sold the winning Powerball ticket," she said.
"OK, so what does that mean?" he said.
"They want us to go to Rocky Hill, I haven't showered yet, I'm behind on my work here, it's Monday..."
"Yeah, but, this sounds pretty big," he said.
"Yeah, we won a hundred thousand dollars!"
"Are you kidding me?" he said. "Then I think you should stop what you're doing, go home and take a shower and let's get in the car and get up there."
"All right, let me call her back."
She swung through Wilton, picked up Mr. Lindquist, shot up to the headquarters in Rocky Hill, which is off I-91 between New Haven and Hartford. They missed the press conference but met the winners, who were pleasant but standoffish. "They had formed a trust and were very adamant about not saying too much and wanted to talk through their attorney for whatever reason," Mr. Lindquist said.
"It was exciting," she said. "They had the balloons and the cardboard check, which my kids get a kick out of."
That Monday afternoon and Tuesday, one after another, the newsies started coming in to the station. "There wasn't a network that didn't come down and talk to either us or the guys," Mr. Lindquist said, all asking pretty much the same questions.
On Monday it was, How does it feel to be the winners? Congratulations. Did you meet them? "Tuesday all the drama started when somebody came forward and said that they didn't win and the guy didn't buy the ticket, somebody else did, one of their clients and he wanted them to be a front because he didn't want to be identified."
Before he got to the station Tuesday morning Mr. Lindquist hadn't heard anything about the mystery. "I said, so what? I said right on the camera, Look, if they didn't take a baseball bat and beat the guy over the head and steal his ticket, who cares? If I don't want to deal with it and I want to give it to you, that should be my prerogative whether I let you deal with it or not."
"Honestly," Ms. Argotta said, "I think the guys, being investment bankers, that they don't really have the best reputation to begin with in this economy."
"People seemed to be very disappointed that these guys won," Mr. Lindquist said.
"There's a nice mix down there of people," Ms. Argotta added, "there's the Shippan residential area, but there's a lot of construction guys that come in during the day, even the guys I see every day, the mechanics from all the car dealerships, you know, you're kind of pulling for someone like that. So when you hear that it's investment bankers from Greenwich nobody does leaps. So they want the controversy behind it. So they were trying to say the guys were just a front. But the guy who bought the ticket is a regular customer of ours and our manager recognizes him. He comes in a lot."
Several of their employees recognized Mr. Davidson.
"He doesn't buy Lotto every time but he does buy coffee every day," Ms. Argotta said. "I got interviewed by Inside Edition that wanted the controversy but my clip was cut, because I said he was a regular customer. You know, they wanted to hear the controversy."
A reporter from ABC kept asking them the same question "20 different ways trying to bait us," Mr. Linquist said. "They were looking for drama, they're looking for us to join the band wagon and say, Yeah, we've never seen the guy before, nobody recognized him, so maybe he did front for them. That's what they were looking for. It's amazing how some of this stuff works. We didn't realize it until we were kind of in it, but that was the buzz on Tuesday. ... Hey, the guy comes here and we have no reason to believe that he didn't."
The store's video surveillance only saves tapes for two weeks and the day of Nov. 1, when the ticket was bought, had all been erased. "A lot of the news people were asking for that," Ms. Argotta said.
"And they were willing to pay," Mr. Lindquist added.
By Thursday, things had settled down. "We have the banners outside the store and hopefully we're 'the lucky store' now so our business will keep picking up," Ms. Argotta said. "Generally December's a busier month for Lotto anyway, just because of the holidays and a lot of people buy scratch-offs as gifts. But the last few days things have definitely picked up."
Mr. Linquist said it was amazing how quickly word spread. "It took a couple of hours. We were up there, probably one hour in the headquarters, we came out, we got interviewed by NBC, and then we were sitting in the car texting and calling friends and family."
His son called him from high school: "Dad! What the heck is going on? Everybody's telling me you hit the lottery."
"It was like we won the lotto," Ms. Argotta said. "Everybody asks us, 'What are you going to do with the money?'"
She said they still had the loan for the store to pay off and a lot of other bills to pay and they plan to take care of their employees with nice Christmas bonuses.
"I sit in the back office and I hear the regular people come in, they're like: I hope they gave you something. One lady was going on and on and I poked my head out and said: Next week. It's coming next week! Because the check hasn't cleared yet."
"This is just a nice payback to either take for ourselves as income, or reinvest in the store, or pay the debt down, or what have you," Mr. Lindquist said. "One way or another it will go to good use, for sure. It's not a life-changing amount of money. It's kind of weird because usually I have to work a hell of a lot harder for money."
Commissions for selling winning tickets are capped at $100,000, Mr. Lindquist said, but they used to be 1%.
"This would have been $2.5 million," Ms. Argotta said.
"Not a normal couple of days for us for sure," Mr. Lindquist said.
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